Reporting is a critical task in companies to ensure that stakeholders have access to critical information so they can analyze past performance and predict future trends. However, in 2016 inquiry revealed that 76% of reporting time is spent on manual reports and quality assurance, leaving only 24% of time on analyzing and drawing conclusions from reports.
Report automation tools can automate data collection and updating, data visualization, report generation, and report submission on a programmed schedule, freeing up employees ’time to analyze business trends and forecast market forecasts. However, it is important to choose a report automation tool based on cost, integrations, and team programming skills.
Here’s how to automate the report and the tools available:
What is the first step in reporting automation?
Before choosing the right tool to automate your reports, it’s important to determine your company’s reporting needs, including:
- Current reports and their usage levels
- Time spent on reporting by department
- Time and cost of correcting reporting errors
- Tracked KPIs
- Report schedules (daily / weekly / monthly / quarterly)
It is also important that the reporting budget matches business requirements and team skills.
There are 4 types of report Automation tools to choose from based on your budget, integrations, and team coding skills. Here is a summary of the pros and cons of different reporting automation tools:
|Code based||Customizable||Requires coding skills for advanced functionality|
|Low / No code||Easy to use||Limited customization features|
|Requires training in advanced operations|
|Dashboards||Easy to use
Easy to build complex dashboards
|Limited customization options in some tools|
In all classes we observe
- some freemium or open source options
- need to get used to the interface and shapes of a particular tool
Code-based reporting tools give the reporting team complete control over the reporting system and customize reports based on business and customer requirements. However, code-based tools require time to write scripts and debug. Code-based tools may require a team with high coding and scripting experience, especially if the reporting need is complex.
Some code-based tools include SQL and SQL-based platforms, such as Tableau.
Small code / No code
Low-code / no-code development tools relies on GUI elements and drag-and-drop functionality to complete business processes. To automate your reports, these processes include:
- obtaining information from business sources (email, sheets, social media)
- creating and updating datasets
- creating reports
- sending reports to designated contacts
Small-code / non-code-based reporting tools are easier to use and do not require programming skills to configure reporting functions, but customization is limited to built-in reporting functions. There are many low code / no code development tools, for example some RPA tools also fall under this bucket. To learn more about automating RPA reports, read our bold article For RPA reporting: Ultimate Guide with 17 Use Cases.
An example of a low code reporting tool is Argos Labs integration platform. Users can set the bot to perform reporting tasks with minimal coding skills. For example, a systems integration company integrates the Argos Labs bot to generate reports from SAP, Excel, and email platforms. Botti was able to shorten the report creation time to 60 hours per month.
Business Intelligence (BI) tools provide easy access to business data for insights and forecasts of business performance. Using BI tools to automate reports allows business data to be combined, analyzed, and visualized into static reports as well as real-time interactive dashboards.
BI tools provide robust and customized data analysis across multiple platforms, but require training / experience in using and interpreting performance reports.
For a complete understanding of the BI software market and the tools available, you can check out data-driven list of BI software.
KPI dashboard tools track various business metrics (e.g., projects, budgets, sales, forecasts, team performance) across departments and provide real-time and time-based visualizations of business performance. There are 3 types of KPI reporting panels:
- Strategic aggregation screens: They focus on funding and process-based performance indicators to highlight system weaknesses, investment opportunities, and helping with budgeting.
- Action panels: These aggregation screens focus on sales, marketing, and customer service to examine market developments and company performance.
- Analytical dashboards: These aggregate screens contain historical information about a company’s performance over time. Analytical dashboards provide a detailed picture of a company’s financial condition and peer-to-peer performance to optimize operations and predict market developments.
KPI tools are easier to install and use than BI tools, and can be free in some cases. However, they are less customizable and may require training to use as a power user. For example web analytics domain, Google Analytics and Matomo are common solutions.
When choosing a type of report automation tool, it’s important to consider the following:
- Data formats: Business information can be in various formats (eg Excel spreadsheets, JPEG files, text). For example, most invoices are JPEG images, while website traffic information is typically in more structured formats. Therefore, depending on the use case, it may be important to choose a tool that can handle structured and unstructured data. For example, BI tools may be better suited for marketing reports that extract information from websites and company channels, while RPA tools can easily integrate or provide ready-made AI algorithms such as OCR and NLP extract information from unstructured data such as financial statements and invoices
- Information sources: Integrations are important in reporting because reports combine data from multiple sources. When you choose a tool that provides integration directly into the source for your data sources, using the tool is easier.
- Level of customization: Financial or personnel reports that measure updated data on the same data on a regular basis may not require as much customization as customer reports that measure different metrics for different customers.
- Team programming skills: Companies may choose from code-based tools for departments with team members with coding skills and experience, while they may want to choose dashboard tools for departments with less technical skills.
When choosing a report automation tool type, it’s also important to consider prices, company lines, market shares, and community comments and reviews. We recommend that you review the knowledge-based lists of relevant tools:
Learn more about automation
If you want to learn about different automation case studies in business, read our article:
Hyperautomation is an end-to-end automation method that is popular right now. Feel free to read our article on hyperauto applications.
If you are ready to invest in a ready-made automation solution for your business, we can help